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The Backyard Cafe tries to serve up ingredients close to their natural state
The Backyard Cafe tries to serve up ingredients close to their natural state. Kimberley McCosker

Globe-trotting raw food chef serving some clean living

A new cafe near the riverside offers a range of healthy options, from cashew nut cheese to no-nonsense sarnies

Phnom Penh’s newly opened Backyard Cafe serves up fresh, healthy dishes with as few processed ingredients as possible. Nutritionist and raw food chef Emma Fountain, who developed the menu, describes it as “clean” food.

“‘Clean’ means when you eat a food you can taste every element to it,” Fountain, 32, said during a chat at the cafe earlier this week. “Everything’s separate. It’s not been fried. It’s not in a lot of oil or butter, or heavily spiced. It’s not heavily sweetened. The flavour is as it’s intended to be in its natural form.”

A honey substitute.
A honey substitute. Kimberley McCosker

Fountain, who hails from the UK, was the original owner of another Phnom Penh cafe, ARTillery, which has a similarly health-conscious menu, but sold up to get her raw-food certification in Bali.

“At ARTillery I designed the menu with foods I enjoyed to eat, but Backyard’s menu is more nutrition focused with a mindfulness on complementary food groups and nutritional value,” she said. “We also don’t use sugar and are making everything in-house and fermenting lots of ingredients.”

After living for nine months in the Caribbean, Fountain came back to Cambodia to help out her friend and owner of the Backyard Cafe, Swedish personal trainer Maria Ahlberg, with its interior design, staff training and menu.

The cafe opened on March 30 serving up a menu ranging from more traditional offerings like the “Power Door Stop Sandwich”, which features roasted herbed chicken, pesto, tzatziki, tomato, sprouts and salad on a thick chunk of seeded bread ($5.50), to the more hippy-dippy “Abundance Bowl”, which mixes up tempeh with spinach, sesame pumpkin, quinoa, red pepper hummus, fermented pickled beetroot and ginger sauerkraut, “cheese” made from cashew nuts, and salad leaves ($6).

Emma Fountain plans to return to the Caribbean soon.
Emma Fountain plans to return to the Caribbean soon. Kimberley McCosker

Also available are a range of fresh smoothies (to be sucked down with a bamboo straw) and homemade pickles, jam, hummus, guacamole and cashew cheese and milk to take home.

Fountain said she usually developed the recipes by taking a traditional dish and giving it a healthy twist. For example, making a zucchini fritter using ground up chia seeds instead of flour for the binding agent and baking it in coconut oil instead of deep frying.

“And then I’ll just top it with things I think taste good together, like mint yoghurt and salmon,” she said. “And then on the side some chilli jam, which I make myself.

“We’ve got a healthy lasagne here that has ricotta cheese and parmesan and stuff in it, but it’s not using pasta – we’re using vegetables as the layers instead. It’s still something that people who just want to eat normally can eat.”

The ethos follows through to the decor as well. Set in a bright, minimalist-boho space in Street 256, down the road from Bouchon, the only decoration on the mostly plain white walls is a thick gnarled tree root, the tabletops are unvarnished reclaimed wood (the baby cacti in ceramic pots are a cute touch) and the floor is polished concrete. A yet-to-be-opened upstairs with a balcony will be similarly decorated but feature more couches.

“It’s very simple, very fresh, just not overdoing it too much,” Fountain said. “Phnom Penh is getting so busy with all the traffic and noise, I just wanted to create a peaceful, airy light space to come, hang out with a friend, eat some healthy food, read a book, sit for a full day doing work.”

The ‘Power Door Stop Sandwich’ is a mainstream take on healthy eating
The ‘Power Door Stop Sandwich’ is a mainstream take on healthy eating. Kimberley McCosker

While not in Cambodia for good and planning to head back to the Caribbean soon, Fountain said she would continue to rent a home in Phnom Penh and return regularly to help other restaurants, cafes and bars with their food, and to continue to evolve The Backyard Cafe.

“We want to produce seasonable-based and new dishes all the time,” she said. “I have hundreds of dishes that I would love to try here, so I will have an ongoing role here for sure.” ​

The Backyard Cafe is located at #11b Street 256. Tel: 078 751 715. Open: 7:30am until 4:30pm.

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